Pandemic death toll nearly 15 million, hospitals urged to use retired staff, food apps and online gaming driving obesity and Sajid Javid in crisis talks over HRT shortages – this week’s Friday Five
WHO reveal world’s true pandemic death toll nearly 15 million
The Covid pandemic has caused the deaths of nearly 15 million people around the world, the World Health Organization estimates.That is 13% more deaths than normally expected over two years. The WHO believes many countries undercounted the numbers who died from Covid – only 5.4 million were reported.
The measure used by the WHO is called excess deaths – how many more people died than would normally be expected based on mortality in the same area before the pandemic hit. These calculations also take into account deaths which were not directly because of Covid but instead caused by its knock-on effects, like people being unable to access hospitals for the care they needed. It also accounts for poor record-keeping in some regions, and sparse testing at the start of the crisis. But the WHO said the majority of the extra 9.5 million deaths seen above the 5.4 million Covid deaths reported were thought to be direct deaths caused by the virus, rather than indirect deaths.
Speaking about the scale of the figures, Dr Samira Asma, from the WHO’s data department, said “It’s a tragedy… It’s a staggering number and it’s important for us to honour the lives that are lost, and we have to hold policymakers accountable,” she said… If we don’t count the dead, we will miss the opportunity to be better prepared for the next time.”
Hospitals urged to use retired staff to cut backlog
Senior doctors are being asked to postpone their retirement and work from home or part-time under a new drive to tackle record waiting lists. NHS England bosses wrote to hospital trusts yesterday urging them to coax elderly doctors out of retirement and persuade others to stay on.
About 21,000 doctors over the age of 65 are due to retire this year, exacerbating a shortage of 110,000 NHS staff that is undermining efforts to tackle the Covid backlog. The initiative is part of a new package of measures to tackle the workforce crisis, which medical leaders have warned is making it impossible to bring down the record waiting list of 6.2 million patients.
In the letter to hospital chief executives, NHS England said that the Covid backlog could not be cleared without “enhancing and expanding the capacity of our workforce”. Hospitals were instructed to take “high impact” actions to increase staffing levels. This included “encouraging recently retired staff and individuals considering retirement to return” by offering “arrangements that reflect their experience, skills and own preferences”, such as giving video outpatient appointments from home.
The World Health Organization has said that children using meal-delivery apps and the rising popularity of online gaming could be driving obesity across Europe. No European country is on track to stop obesity rising by 2025, the WHO says.Nearly 60% of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese – and the Covid pandemic has made that worse.
The WHO have suggested restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, cutting the cost of healthy food and encouraging all ages to exercise more. The WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022 says rates of overweight and obesity have reached “epidemic proportions”, with only the Americas having a higher level of obese adults than Europe. It estimates the problem is causing 1.2 million deaths every year in Europe – 13% of all deaths – and at least 200,000 new cases of cancer annually.
“Obesity knows no borders,” said Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe. “The countries in our region are incredibly diverse but every one is challenged to some degree.”But “we can change the trajectory of obesity in the region” by developing strong health systems, he said.
The UK’s acute shortage of hormone replacement therapy products for menopausal women has prompted the health secretary to call a meeting with industry representatives and the government’s new HRT supply tsar to discuss the crisis. Manufacturers of HRT products and pharmacy representatives met Sajid Javid and the recently appointed HRT supply tsar, Madeleine McTernan, on Thursday to discuss the supply shortages. The meeting lasted about an hour, and Javid was expected to release a statement on the discussions later in the day.
The government knew about the supply shortages as far back as October, according to Tina Backhouse, the UK manager for women’s health at Theramex, a pharmaceuticals firm. She told the Daily Telegraph she had alerted the Department of Health at the time but ministers were focused on dealing with the Covid pandemic.
The recent crisis in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has left Kathleen Hewitt exhausted and unable to work in the village of Scalford, in Leicestershire. She said:
“Unfortunately the medication I was on is no longer available. I’ve been getting fatigue, anxiety, night sweats, mood swings and joint aches. I wasn’t functioning very well at all and my whole family was affected. To be absolutely blunt, I was wondering what the hell was happening to me. I had massive mood swings, I couldn’t sleep and I was completely exhausted.”